How Santa Became Santa

/SLASH/'s 4 days of Christmas (day 2)

Written by Alicia Jonker and Johannes Meyer


´Tis the season. The beloved bearded, big-bellied bringer of joy is coming to town and bringing presents to all the good kids. Who am I talking about? Santa Claus, of course. But who is this cookie-consuming, laws of physics-breaking gift giver and how did the cozy christmas parties that surround him come to be?


Christmas: the origin story

The origin story of Santa is quite a bit convoluted as he is an amalgamation of several other more or less historical characters, which influenced each other to various degrees. The deep rooted origins of Santa Claus, though, can traced back to Norse mythology. On the 21st of December, the first day of winter, Yuletide was celebrated. Yuletide is a historical Germanic festival which was probably connected to the god Odin who lead the so-called “Wild Hunt”, and other supernatural activity. During the Yuletide the Germanics held feasts, drank and made sacrifices. And while the Yuletide is generally not celebrated anymore these days, most of these traditions still can be found in our modern Christmas celebrations: most of us eat ham at Christmas, the modern version of the Yule boar the Germanics sacrificed during Yuletide; we sing christmas songs like they used to sing Yule songs; and we still have a feast with drinks every Christmas.


The man himself

The Santa we know these days emerged from the fusion of Father Christmas, the personification of christmas from English folklore, and Saint Nicholas of Myra, better known as Sinterklaas. The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch name, as one can guess from similar sound and spelling. Saint Nicholas, who was the patron saint of children, is mostly known as an elderly serious man with white hair and a long white beard, sporting a long red cape and a red mitre. In a way he is quite similar to Santa Claus, who also has white hair and a long white beard and who also wears red clothing and a red hat. Santa Claus, however, did not just copy Sinterklaas’s outfit. He actually got his appearance from Father Christmas. During the English Civil War in the 15th century,  christmas traditions were banned and thus a new idea was born: Father Christmas, adopted as the symbol for all the banned christmas cheer. At this time, Father Christmas was still associated with adult feasting and festivities and he did not yet have a connection to children. Later, in the Victorian period, when Christmas became more of a family celebration, this changed (lucky us) and Father Christmas also finally became a bringer of gifts in the night.


Open happiness

Having acquired all the commonly known traits, Dutch immigrants brought Sinterklaas to the colonies, over to North America. Here, Sinterklaas, or now Santa Claus, underwent additional changes getting rid of his church clothing and first dressing up in the garments of Germanic gift bringers. Following a poem, however, this was revamped and Santa Claus became closer to how we know him today: a sleigh pulled by eight reindeers, a jolly disposition, as well as a round belly and a more classical garb. The colour of this outfit, however, still varied from time to time.  It wasn´t until Coca-Cola utilized the beloved man to boost sales during winter that the red garb became a thing (damn commercialization).

There you have it, a short run down of how Santa Claus came to be. And while this might be a gold nugget of useless wisdom, you now at least have one thing you learned at university you can actually tell your parents about. Santa would be proud. Now drink that coke and have a merry christmas!

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